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What is the Black Lives Matter movement?
Tuesday • 1 November 2016 • 6:14 PM CDT

The Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) is an international rebellion against the abuse of and disregard for black lives by government and society at large. While the individuals, organizations and demonstrations that constitute the movement have, thus far, primarily focused on the manifestation of this abuse and disregard through police violence, they have increasingly expanded their focus to broader issues including mass incarceration, workers rights and education.

How did the movement begin?

On July 13, 2013, the night that George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin, activist Alicia Garza wrote a note to her friends on Facebook expressing disappointment with the verdict. She ended her note "Our lives matter." The same night, Alicia's friend and fellow activist Patrisse Cullors wrote her own messages to friends on Facebook after reading Alicia's comments, tagging them "#blacklivesmatter." Within days, Patrisse, Alicia and their friend Opal Tometi created the Black Lives Matter organization.

One year later, after Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, MO, the city's residents held a series of protests in what is now known as the Ferguson Uprising. Following this uprising, frustration spread throughout the country after Cleveland police officer killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice.  Soon after this, a Ferguson grand jury declined to charge the officer who killed Brown with murder and a New York grand jury declined to indict the officer who killed Eric Garner. Following this series of events, the campaigns centered on Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and others merged into a more unified movement against the abuse of and disregard for black life in general. Towards the end of 2014, "Black Lives Matter" became a rallying cry for, and eventually the namesake of, this movement.

What does the movement want to accomplish?

Broadly speaking, the movement aims to end the abuse of and disregard for black lives in society. However, because the Black Lives Matter movement is not a formal organization, it does not have a formal platform. As a result, the people and organizations who constitute the movement do not necessarily agree on more specific goals. Even further, because many organizations focus on specialized issues, they have specialized goals rather than universal ones that share with everyone in the movement. For instance, organizations that focus on mobilizing students to fight campus racism have different aims than organizations that focus on influencing local elections.

Some BLM organizations and collectives have, however, published individual platforms which detail their own principles, demands and goals. To view some of these platforms, visit BLM Platforms.

Who are the leaders of the movement?

Because BLM is a movement rather than a formal organization, BLM does not have appointed, elected or other official leaders. For this reason, many describe the movement as "leaderless." However, because the movement is comprised of many individuals and organizations who have taken leadership roles with regard to organizing, mobilizing and advocating for the movement, others have described it as "leaderfull."

How is the movement organized?

Just as the movement does not have formal leadership, it does not have a formal organizational structure. On the contrary, the movement is constituted by disparate individuals and organizations that are loosely united around the goal of ending the abuse of and disregard for black lives through the world, particularly by eliminating violence and racism directed towards black people.

While many of the independent organizations in the movement coordinate with each other to mobilize, advocate or otherwise further the movement, each has its own organizational structure, mission and vision for the future. Even further, many of the individuals and organizations within the movement primarily operate locally, focusing on community rather than national issues with police, education, housing and other issues affecting the black population. BLM members have also joined forces with ally movements and campaigns including #FightFor15 and #NoDAPL.

How many people belong to the Black Lives Matter movement?

While it is difficult, if not impossible, to know exactly how many people constitute the movement, the number can be estimated roughly.

If membership is defined solely as individuals who have organized and/or attended BLM demonstrations, then, as of November 1, 2016, approximately 482,000 people are a part of the movement according to information contained in Elephrame's record of demonstrations.* If membership is defined more broadly as individuals who support the movement, then 43 percent of Americans, or approximately 140 million Americans, are members according to information contained in a survey published by the Pew Research Center.

How many Black Lives Matter protests and other demonstrations have been held?

As of November 1, 2016, at least 1,570 Black Lives Matter demonstrations had been held worldwide. To learn more about each of these demonstrations, visit BLM Demonstrations.

How can people support or participate in the movement?

  • Express support for the movement and educate friends, family and acquaintances about BLM, police brutality, racism and related issues in person, on social media or through other means.
  • Encourage your local, state and federal officials to support the movement and enact policies/legislation that will help reduce violence and other forms of racism directed towards black people. To view a list of legislation/policies that BLM organizations have developed or endorsed, visit BLM Platforms.
  • Donate money and supplies or volunteer time to BLM organizations who request support. To read about some of these organizations, visit BLM Organizations.
  • Attend and/or organize demonstrations in your community. (Note: Several demonstrations, particularly in smaller towns, have included less than ten people so don't be afraid to organize a small gathering with your friends, family, church or other group. These smaller actions are just as important as the larger ones. Also, wherever, whenever and with whomever you choose to demonstrate, keep your safety in mind as (usually verbal) hostility directed towards demonstrators is not uncommon.)
  • Use your skills and follow your interests to help the movement in a way that is not listed above. Because each of us has unique skills and interests, we can each further the movement in ways that others are either not able to do or not interested in doing. Whether we are artists, programmers, writers or have skills that movement has not yet utilized, each of us can have a unique and positive impact on the Black Lives Matter movement's progress. Simply put, one of the best ways to support or participate in the movement is to do what you can and what you love in support of the movement you care about.


* This estimation is based on the total number of participants in the demonstrations listed on Elephrame's record of Black Lives Matter demonstrations as of November 1, 2016. For demonstrations where the number of participants was not an integer (e.g. "hundreds"), the minimum number of participants was used in the total. For example, demonstrations that are labeled as having "hundreds" of participants were counted as having 200 demonstrators. Similarly, demonstrations where the number of participants was labeled "Unclear" were counted as having 1 demonstrator. Demonstrations which were labeled as having a range of participants were counted as having the lower end of the range (e.g. 200 demonstrators were estimated for demonstrations labeled as having 200-300 participants).